THE 17th season of the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU) formally kicks off on Thursday with a four-game bill at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.
Defending champion St. Clare College-Caloocan opens its bid for back-to-back championships when it meets dangerous Philippine Christian University in the featured game at 2 p.m.
Other opening-day matches will pit Colegio de San Lorenzo against Manuel Luis Quezon University at 8 a.m., last year’s runner-up Our Lady of Fatima University against De la Salle-Araneta University at 10 a.m. and AMA University against City University of Pasay at 4 p.m.
A two-hour long opening ceremony highlighted by the parade of teams will start at 12 noon with Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines (BCAP) president Alfrancis Chua and Globalport team manager Bonnie Tan as the guests of honor.
“We’re looking forward to another successful season for the NAASCU,” said league president Dr. Ernesto Jay Adalem of St. Clare during the media launch at the PCU Audio-Visual Room.
Also present were PBA legend Pido Jarencio, who was appointed commissioner; PCU president Dt. Junifen Gauuan and coaches and representatives of the participating teams.
Led by last year’s MVP Aris Dionisio and comebacking Rafael Rebugio and Earvin Mendoza, the Saints are hoping to duplicate their successful title run against the Phoenix last year and capture their third championship under veteran coach Jinino Manansala in the league’s 17-year history.
Manansala and his coaching staff have assembled a strong and talented team that include Dionisio, Rebugio, Mendoza, Mark Puspus, Rey de Mesa, Junjie Hallare, Michael de Leon and 6-6 exchange student Mohamed Pare.
“We made the necessary adjustments during the off-season. The return of Rebugio and Mendoza this year will also help the team a lot,” said Manansala, who also steered St.Clare to a fourth-place finish in the Rain or Shine-sponsored NAASCU pre-season tournament last April.
A total of 16 teams are seeing action in the tournament, which is now widely considered as the biggest collegiate league in terms of student population.
The other teams expected to figure prominently in the title race are Our Lady of Fatima University, which finished runner-up last year; CdSL, which bagged the 2017 MBL Open title last June; PCU, which finished runner-up in the NAASCU pre-season tilt and placed third in the MBL Open; MLQU, which took part in the MBL; AMA University, which competed in the PBA D League; and new member St. Francis of Assisi College.
The other participating teams are Rizal Technological University, Enderun Colleges, Philippine Merchant Marine School, De Ocampo Memorial Colleges, New Era University, City University of Pasay, Lyceum of Subic Bay, comebacking Holy Angel University and new member De La Salle-Araneta University.
Overall, University of Manila is the most successful team in the league with seven titles. The Hawks bagged the title in the league’s first five years from 2001 to 2005 under coach Loreto Tolentino and repeated in 2010 and 2011 under coach Jojo Castllo.
AMA ended UM’s five-year reign when it captured the title in 2006 with coach Boni Garcia at the helm.
The other NAASCU champions are STI (2007), San Sebastian College-Cavite (2008, 2009), St. Clare (2012), and Centro Escolar University (2013, 2014, 2015) and St. Clare (2016).
Games Thursday, Aug. 17 (Cuneta Astrodome)
8 a.m. – CdSL vs MLQU
10 a.m. – OLFU vs DLSAU
12 noon - Opening ceremony
2 p.m. – St. Clare vs. PCU
4 p.m. – AMA vs. CUP